Friday, March 29, 2013


With Uranus currently squaring Pluto, the world is undergoing one of those big shifts that happen every 20 or 30 years, when 2 of the 3 outer planets hard aspect each other. This present shift is intensified by the fact that Uranus and Pluto are also aspecting major points, particularly the Suns, of so many of the world’s most powerful countries.

The Sun, if you like, is our inner goals. Who am I, what am I becoming? These sorts of questions are raised in major transits to the Sun in both an individual and a collective. It is very clear in the case of the European Union, which has the Sun at 10 Capricorn, that it is going through this kind of self-questioning, which often takes the form of a crisis that forces the issue – people and collectives don’t usually make big changes willingly, we prefer to stay with the known.

America, with its Sun at 13 Cancer, has yet to experience the full power of Uranus-Pluto. But it will, and if it does have a crisis, I expect it to be political, a crisis of governability: who runs America, the President and Congress (with give and take), or the right wing of the Republican Party? The right-wing is usually ascendant when a country feels insecure, and this issue seems to have been going on in the US since the fall of Communism (under the Uranus-Neptune conjunction) and the loss of the old certainties about America’s place in the world and who are the good guys and bad guys. New certainties may be the answer. Or maybe the US will learn to live without them.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m being anti-American (I’m not!) the UK (with natal Sun at 10 Capricorn) also has its own identity crisis, particularly around its membership of the EU and the potential loss of Scotland next year. (I don’t think Scotland will break away, for reasons of “If it works, don’t fix it.” There is no crisis, no survival issue to push it into happening.) And also the perennial issue of Britain’s place in the world since it lost its Empire, still trying to punch above its weight on the one hand, and grovelling to America to keep its place at the top table, while tending to doubt itself and be overly self-critical on the other. There is plenty of grist for our mill, plenty to work through.

This is some of the political dimension of Uranus-Pluto (which is also clearly very active in the Arab world.) And there is the economic dimension: the Great Recession, and the historic shift of economic power from the West to the East.

But there is also a big cultural shift, with political implications, brought about by the power of the internet. The internet came about in the mid 90s, in the later stages of the Uranus-Neptune conjunction, the power of which went on and on as Uranus and Neptune, entering Pisces and Aquarius respectively, were in mutual reception for about 7 years*. And the internet, with Uranus and Neptune behind it, developed very rapidly – within a few short years of its creation, there was an internet bubble on the stock market.
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Uranus rules electricity and computers and networking, and Neptune is the imaginative power that can be expressed through the internet. And let’s not forget the creativity of Uranus, the unexpected developments that we wouldn’t have thought of along the way.

I think under Uranus-Pluto, the internet (Uranus) has begun to come into its own as an economic, political and cultural power (Pluto).  In the 2008 US Presidential Election, in the early stages of Uranus-Pluto (and these transits have wide orbs, big changes take years), Barack Obama was the first candidate to use the internet to build a grassroots support movement.

Politicians can use the power of the internet, but its power can also be used against them. Through the social media and the bloggers, people in countries where you can’t speak freely are speaking freely. An enormous power of social interaction and free speech has been unleashed. In China, the government keeps trying to censor it, but people will always find a way round. The internet is too powerful, and it is also an aspect of the globalisation that came into the world during Pluto’s transit through Sagittarius from 1995 to 2008.

It is probably the most powerful (Pluto) voice for democracy (Uranus) that has ever existed, and it is profound. I don’t mean democracy in the political sense of choosing your government by election, because usually the choice is very limited, and you don’t really know what the candidates will do once elected. And you have no choice between elections.

No, I mean it in the sense that people can connect with each other and express their opinion and keep informed in ways they couldn’t and exert pressure on governments.

But it is not just political, it is cultural. And it applies to the astrology world. Just a few years ago, if you were yer average astrologer, you’d probably have a few astro-friends locally to talk to, that you might or might not be particularly sympatico with, and that would be that. And once a year  you might trot off to a conference or a summer school for some wider contact and inspiration.

But in recent years, under the dynamic, transformative impact of Uranus-Pluto, all that has been changing. The old structures are still in place, but increasingly astrology is taking place on the internet, allowing for a much wider ongoing interaction through Facebook and Twitter and Skyping, as well as allowing talents to emerge through the astro-blogosphere. For instance, I am a member of the Exeter Astrology Facebook group. I am local to Exeter, but we also have lots of ‘country cousins’ on the site, mainly from the UK, but also from across the world, and we share all sorts of astro-stuff on a regular basis.

Previously, to establish yourself as an astrologer you’d need to do a course and get a certificate and then advertise locally and hope a few people might be interested and that your old course tutors might send a few people your way. And I’m not criticising that at all, it has its strengths and it was what was needed. To become more widely known, you’d probably need to write a book and be invited to speak at conferences.

With the internet, all you need to do is to write an astro-blog or vlog and be good at it and keep it up. Of course, being ‘good’ at it isn’t easy. And you end up with readers and friends from all over the world, and doing readings via skype all over the world. What a change from a few years ago, what a wonderful change, who would have thought it?

And no formal qualifications are needed (I don’t have any) and it’s understandable some people may feel uneasy with that because formal training does have its place (unless like me you have Mercury in Aquarius opp Uranus!) And the internet also has its own style that is different to the traditional books and prepared talks and magazine articles. It is short, it is informal, and it is to the point. If you don’t do that, you probably won’t have much of an audience. OK, we can complain about people’s lack of attention span. But there’s also something good in it. And the blogosphere seems to be where a lot of people are now learning astrology, and one day you find they've been reading your blog for years and you never knew.

Like it or not, the internet  is the way astrology is going. A big part of astrology, probably more than we know, is already happening via the internet, and it’s only going to get more so. And bloggers have emerged who are good at what they do and they seem like a separate world to the prominent figures in the establishment astro-world, and it would be good if that divide could somehow start to be bridged. Bloggers and internet groups are a big part of astrology’s future. That is why in the US it is so good to see Rick Levine and Jeff Jawer ’s regular astro-vlog on youtube. And bloggers were on at least one occasion specifically invited to speak at a conference in the US. And The Mountain Astrologer Magazine presents a digest of astro-blogs. In the UK, there seem to be no such bridges. Like, maybe the AA newsletter could present a digest of some UK blogs?

How astrology is done, how we think about it and write about it, is being re-defined on the internet. There are a lot of very good, very experienced astrologers in the ‘establishment’ who would have a lot to offer in the blogosphere.

Politically, the internet works very differently to a traditional institution – it is more bottom up than top down. In the establishment, credibility as an astrologer comes from the top – you are awarded a certificate, you are maybe asked to teach or give talks. Nothing wrong with that. But the internet works very differently: you gain credibility because people read you and they like what you write and they talk about it and discuss with you and link to others. And everybody has a voice. And this is part of a wider cultural shift that is going on as the internet develops.

* A mutual reception occurs when 2 planets are each in a sign the other rules. Uranus was in Neptune-ruled Pisces, while Neptune was in Uranus-ruled Aquarius. It acts a bit like a conjunction.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Fate, Free Will and The Planetary Powers


In one of the ancient Greek Creation Myths, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, created the seven planetary powers, and set a Titan and Titaness over each.

So how do we take that as astrologers? These days we tend to say the planets do not cause events to happen, only naïve people think that, we are more sophisticated. Rather, it is a matter of synchronicity, the cycles of the planets reflecting cycles in human affairs.

But it seems that in ancient times the planets really were powers, and I think as astrologers we feel that too, that is why we are astrologers. We feel the powers of the planets just as the ancients did, and it is therefore not quite right for us to say that the planets do not cause events.

Of course the planets influence human affairs, we kind of know that and feel that, let’s be honest about it. It just leaves us in a bit of tricky position when facing the modern ‘rational’ scientific way of looking at the universe. How could a lump of rock millions of miles away be influencing human affairs?

But a planet is only a lump of rock when viewed through our Earth and Air faculties: the Earth faculty only sees physical evidence, discernible through the 5 physical senses. And the Air faculty then creates theories based on that evidence. Where does that leave Fire and Water,  our ability to know and feel the power of the planets?

I think it is important we do not make concessions to modern ‘rationality’, which is not rationality at all. Rationality comes from the word ratio, and is connected to ration. It is about proportionality, seeing things in a balanced way, every element having its say. Modern ‘rationality’, which often considers only Earth and Air to be means of knowledge, is not balanced at all. It is for naïve people who take the world at face value, who believe that only what comes in through the 5 senses is real, that there is not a deeper less obvious dimension which is actually the source of everything we experience.
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Blake: The Sun at his Eastern Gates
From William Blake’s Vision of the Last Judgement:

"What it will be Questiond When the Sun rises  do  you  not  see  a  round  Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?

O no no I see an Innumerable company of the
Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight, I look thro it & not with it.”

There you have it. Blake experienced the power of the Sun just like we do. And he looks through his eyes, not with them. We are not the window, we are the observer standing behind it.

So where does this leave our precious Free Will, if the planets cause events?

I think the argument about Fate versus Free Will is mainly an argument between medieval Christianity and what came afterwards, the so-called ‘Enlightenment’. A swing from a one-sided emphasis on faith and tradition to an equally one-sided emphasis on human reason. And a division of the world into ‘inner and outer’. Either we are acting or being acted upon. Free Will or Fate.

I don’t think that the planetary powers acting on human affairs makes us simply creatures of Fate in the modern sense. I think it’s more that the Universe is ensouled, in a sense it is one big soul of which we are a part. Everything is a part of, and affects, everything else.

So the planets as gods are not external forces acting on us in the sense of something completely separate from us. But they are not the same as us either. It’s a different way of thinking which I suspect is closer to how the Greeks would have experienced their gods.

In a sense they ARE separate, they need to be honoured, considered, listened to. But they are also intimately bound up with who we are and our destiny. Yes, we have a destiny, the future in a sense is all laid out before us. And we are living according to nature, which as Jung said is the best way to live, if we let the gods lead us there and let ourselves be dragged through whatever we need to be dragged through in order to learn a few things. But it’s also our choice to go there. And there are consequences if we choose not to go there. If, in other words, we ignore the gods. Like Odysseus who, inflated with his military success after the Trojan war, thought he did not need to propitiate Neptune for his sea journey home. And so it took him 10 years.

This way of thinking is, I think, a necessary consequence of being an astrologer, because as I said at the start, we are astrologers because we feel the power of the planets. That is our starting point for the way we see the universe, that there are these planetary powers that influence ourselves and the rest of humanity. Then we have to ‘go figure’!

I like the idea of Fate, of a pre-existing pattern to our life – well what is a birth chart if not that? Fate gives me a sense of a power and a meaning in the universe. We can’t just be whatever we choose to be, that is a modern delusion. But there is something there for us if we allow the gods to show us the way.

The Three Fates
In ancient Greece there were 3 female Fates: Clotho, who spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle; Lachesis, who measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod; and Atropos, who was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of each person's death; and when their time was come, she cut their life-thread with "her abhorred shears."

In the Republic of Plato,  Lachesis sings the things that were, Clotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be.

In Norse mythology, there are numerous Fates or Norns (again, female) the 3 most important of whom are Urðr (Wyrd), Verðandi and Skuld, whose names also refer respectively to the past, present and future. They live in a hall by the Well of Fate, from which they draw water, and they take sand from around it, which they pour on Ygdrassil, the World Tree, so that its branches do not rot. They are “maidens deep in knowledge” and choose lives for the children of mankind.

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Friday, March 15, 2013


Each of the zodiac signs has a deeper nature to unfold. But Gemini has puzzled me for a while. Who are Geminis trying to become, what is their deeper nature? Mercury-ruled Gemini has a glittering surface, but what is underneath? We know that Gemini  is the light twin and the dark twin, so there is something there in the dark twin, something weightier.

I think the answer is probably somewhere in the character of Mercury, or Hermes. Amongst other things the god Mercury is the guide to the Underworld, and rules divination. He is also a trickster. And he is the messenger of the gods. So there are these connections to something Other, to the Unconscious, to the outer planets.

Famous Gemini: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. Asked if he had ever tried cocaine he said yes, but I sneezed. Compare that to Bill Clinton who, asked if he had ever smoked weed said yes, but I didn’t inhale. Spot the Gemini. Boris Johnson as usual clowns his way out of a situation that would be a serious reputational issue for most politicians, and gives it a Gemini twist. Because he has turned it into a joke, he can’t be accused of lying. And in so doing he legitimises a taboo subject, allows the truth to come out, which is yes of course we politicians have taken drugs of some sort, just like everyone else has.

Italy is a Gemini nation. The only leader of a lasting government since the war  has been Silvio Berlusconi (who has Gemini  at the top of his chart, which is how the world sees you). He does openly what many other people in positions of power would do secretly. He controls the media through owning them, he bribes, he evades tax,  he engages in illegal wiretaps, he invites underage prostitutes to sex parties. He is continually prosecuted while Prime Minister, always eventually wriggles out of it, and the Italians have by and large loved him for it.

You could say that Gemini-Sagittarius is the axis of Truth. And that Gemini acts as a counter-balance to the Sagittarian gaze at the heavens; his dark twin/Mercury brings in less comfortable truths. But he tricks and charms us into that awareness. In 1996 I had a dream telling me to set up a particular Buddhist organisation, so I did, and it worked very well for a while. And then I ran into a power struggle with those who considered themselves above me, and before I knew it I was off on an entirely different life, much more my own life. So that was Mercury as trickster (Uranus, another trickster, was conjunct my Mercury in 1996!), guiding me to Pluto’s Underworld and a necessary transformation, but I would never have done it if I’d known in advance what was going to happen.

So I think Mercury is so much more than the way our mind works and the way we communicate. He is easy to overlook in a reading if he is in the same sign as the Sun. And Mercury-ruled Geminis seem to embody well this aspect. They seem on the one hand to be the most superficial of signs, but that’s all a show: their presence beguiles and tricks us into an awareness of the shadow, of the parts of ourselves and of life that we’d rather ignore.
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Mythologically, Mercury/Hermes was the son of Maia, a mountain nymph, and Zeus. After he was born he grew at astonishing speed into a young boy and, as soon as his mother’s back was turned, he was off in search of adventure.

He arrived at Pieria, where Apollo was tending a fine herd of cows, and he decided to steal them. He knew they could be traced by their tracks, so he made a number of shoes out of bark and tied them with grass to the feet of the cows – and he put them on backwards, so they looked like they were going in the opposite direction. Hermes drove the cows away at night. Apollo was taken in by the deception, and couldn’t find his cows anywhere. So he offered a reward for their return. Silenus and his Satyrs wanted the reward, so they searched for a long time, until one day some of them were passing through Arcadia and heard the sound of music coming from a cave, music like they’d never heard before.

The nymph Cyllene told them that the music was being played by a boy who she was nursing, because he had lulled his mother to sleep with the music. And that, ingeniously, the boy had made the instrument out of a tortoise shell and cow-gut. The satyrs ears pricked up. “And from where did he get the cow-gut?” they asked. “Are you accusing the boy of theft?” she replied. Harsh words were exchanged. Then Apollo turned up, having divined the identity of the thief from a long-winged bird. He recognised a couple of cow-hides stretched out nearby, and woke Maia, Hermes’ mother, and accused her son of theft. “That’s absurd,” she said, “Look at him lying there in his swaddling clothes, how could he have?”

But Apollo had seen enough and took Hermes off to Mount Olympus to be judged by Zeus, the king of the gods. Hermes denied the theft, Zeus as his father believed him, but Apollo would not back down, and eventually Hermes weakened and confessed to the theft. “Very well, you can have your cows back,” he said, “All except the two that I sacrificed to the 12 gods.”

“12?” said Zeus. “Yes, I’m a god as well,” replied Hermes. This was the first flesh sacrifice ever made.

So Apollo and Hermes returned to Mount Cyllene, and there Hermes played such a ravishing tune to his mother on a lyre he had made (inventing the plectrum along the way), with words in praise of Apollo’s nobility and intelligence, that Apollo forgave him at once. He led Apollo to the cows, playing and singing along the way, and Apollo offered to exchange his cows for the lyre. “Agreed”, said Hermes, and they shook hands on it.

Hermes then cut some reeds and made a shepherd’s pipe and played another tune. Apollo, again delighted, offered to exchange the pipe for his golden staff. “My pipe is worth more than that,” said Hermes, “I want you to teach me augury too.” “I can’t do that,” said Apollo, “ but my old nurses, the Thriae, can teach you to divine with pebbles.”

They agreed on this, and returned to Mount Olympus, where Apollo told Zeus all that had happened. As his father, Zeus told Hermes that from now on he must respect the rights of property and refrain from telling downright lies. (Boris Johnson told an outright lie when he called accusations he had had an affair “an inverted pyramid of piffle.”) But Zeus was also amused. “You seem to be a very ingenious, eloquent and persuasive godling,” he said.

“Then make me your herald,” Hermes replied, “and I will be responsible for the safety of all divine property, and never tell lies, though I cannot promise always to tell the whole truth.”

“That would not be expected of you, said Zeus with a smile. “But your duties would include the making of treaties, the promotion of commerce, and the maintenance of free rights of way for travellers on any road in the world.” When Hermes agreed to these conditions, Zeus gave him a herald’s staff with white ribbons, which everyone was ordered to respect; a round hat against the rain, and winged golden sandals which carried him about with the swiftness of wind. He was at once welcomed into the Olympian family, whom he taught the art of making fire by the rapid twirling of the fire-stick.

Hades (Pluto) also engaged him as his herald, to summon the dying gently and eloquently, by laying the golden staff upon their eyes.

Hermes then assisted the 3 Fates in the composition of the alphabet, invented astronomy, the musical scale, the arts of boxing and gymnastics, weights and measures, and the cultivation of the olive tree.

So that is the main story about Hermes from Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths. You can see why he rules Gemini: the quality of youth, the numerous talents, the charm, the dodgy relationship with the truth. And also that more solemn side to him, guiding souls to the Underworld. But also, I think, the Underworld as part of life, and Hermes’ role in beguiling us “to summon the dying gently and eloquently”, to the place of transformation.

And he is not just a myth or an archetype, words which too easily roll off our tongue as we reduce something living to an idea. He is a presence, he is a god, like all the planets, and needs to be honoured. He really is out there, as we are all probably experiencing during the current Mercury Retrograde period. Why do problems surface with my vehicles or computers so regularly during these periods, far more than at other times? It is certainly not for any scientific reason. The only explanation that seems reasonable to me is that yes, there is indeed a god called Mercury out there making this happen.

Yes, making it happen. The planets as gods do make stuff happen. I’m a simple human being, I cannot get my head around synchronicities and mysterious ‘energies’ as explanations. But I can feel and kind of see these gods. I am wary of Hermes, rightfully so. But I know with the right relationship to him, he’s just exposing underlying weaknesses with my vehicles. And when he tricks me into difficult but transformative situations, I know he is trying to help. And if I call on him, he will help me find the right words and to think on my feet.

I think it is hard for us to get our heads around the idea of the gods acting on our lives without experiencing it as a sort of Christian God thing, the capricious almighty in heaven who judges us and determines our fate. We have rightly rebelled against that, but I think we have gone to the other extreme. We have created a world of Free Will, in which mere humans are masters of their destinies, but Fate is there biting us in the backside, telling us we are mere packages of matter ruled by natural laws, no Free Will at all.

The gods are the Fate aspect of our lives, our deliberation and action is the Free Will aspect, and I don’t see them as opposing. You can have gods acting on you without losing any of your own dignity and choice as a human being, in fact I think they go together. This is a whole other subject. But I think it can only be understood through action, through experiencing these ‘archetypal presences’ in which astrology deals, by propitiating them as gods and seeing where it leaves you.

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